“DUKE Street used to be the best street in Brighton,” a business owner tells me as we look out at a row of empty shops.

Yesterday six stores in the street were shut.

Some are boarded up, others have “to let” signs hanging over their doorways while the windows of a few have shutters down.

The greying aftermath of Storm Brendan does nothing to detract from the damning sight.

But these empty stores are not exclusive to Duke Street.

Recent figures show the city currently has 665 empty business units.

In the last 12 months, a large number of stores have lost that battle.

Brighton institution Choccywoccydoodah had supplied wide-eyed customers with weird and wacky confectionary creations for more than two decades.

But in May last year the store in The Lanes ceased trading, saying “a challenging trading environment, increased costs and declining margins” had forced the owners to place the company into liquidation.

The shop remains empty, and has been listed for rent by estate agents Graves Jenkins at a price of almost £50,000 a year - £4,166 a month.

Other independent outlets followed with the likes of Phoenix Coffee House and Ninja Game Den, both in London Road, and Vinyl Revolution in Duke Street closing.

The owners of Ninja Game Den were rushed into an “emergency discussion” with their solicitor as they struggled to contend with the “poor state of high street retail”.

In a farewell letter to their customers, they said that “it has unfortunately been fully realised that every day we are open is simply making our overall situation worse”.

Meanwhile Vinyl Revolution owners Rachel Lowe and Simon Parker said that small businesses are “being left to die” in Brighton and Hove.

Following several shock closures, Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas pleaded with the Government to protect independent businesses.

The former Green party leader said: “I’ve just got a message for Government, which is please take local independent retailers far more seriously.

“They are the lifeblood of our communities.

“They are what make places like Brighton special.

“They are what get people spending money in our communities and keeping that money circulating locally.”

But it is not just independent businesses being forced out of the city.

Household names such as Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Miss Selfridge left Churchill Square shopping Centre in October, with the stores set to be replaced by JD Sports later this year.

Popular make-up shop Accessorize followed suit last week.

The relentless competition of internet shopping is often the first thing to spring to mind when people are asked of the cause of the high street’s decline, with flash sales and the option of delivery to your door luring some shoppers away from their favourite stores.

But many business-owners have blamed raised business rates for strangling independent shops and services.

Others have pointed to factors such as poor transport links to the city and price hikes in parking for turning visitors away.

Barber Hossein Hamdollahi, who owns Cutter and Grinder in Duke Street, said he and his team work hard but face an uphill struggle to survive as they contend with high business rates and declining visitor numbers to their shop.

He said: “I pay just under £3,000 in business rates each month, it’s ridiculous, that is the main thing that makes it hard for businesses.”

But Churchill Square centre director Mark Buchanan-Smith said there were positives to be taken from 2019.

He said: "Looking back, 2019 was a good year for the shopping centre. We confirmed that JD Sports will be relocating within the mall to create a flagship store which will be packed with more brands and provide a greater customer experience for shoppers to enjoy.

"This move allowed us to occupy the former Calzedonia and Intimissimi space as well as Burton, Dorthy Perkins and Miss Selfridge, which all closed in October.

"The shopping centre looks forward to the new JD Sports opening in 2020."